Digital black hole in our national memory

Sir, – Frank McNally's amusing observations about Ireland's long chequered relationship with copyright history (An Irishman's Diary, April 25th) was illustrated by a photograph of the gallery of the beautiful Long Room in the Library at Trinity College Dublin.

The library’s gallery rapidly filled up with books when, in 1801, Trinity College Dublin became a Copyright Library by Act of the British parliament, and the library continues to receive UK publications on behalf of the island of Ireland.

This right was recently extended to the legal deposit of UK electronic publications, and the library can now provide on-site access to hundreds of thousands of e-books, e-journals and tens of millions of UK websites. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Irish websites. Last year’s Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Act extended the preservation of Irish digital publications to Irish copyright libraries. Websites, however, were excluded and so there is no legally mandated, comprehensive archive of the Irish web domain. A total of 20 of the 28 member states of the European Union have legislation for capturing their country’s national web domain. Whilst the National Library of Ireland voluntarily captures websites, and Trinity’s Library Trinity invites the voluntary storage of government electronic publications into its edepositIreland, the lack of legislation means there is essentially a digital black hole in Ireland’s national memory.

Much of the living witness of this very momentous time in the nation’s history is happening on the web. There are individual projects and initiatives being created, such as Trinity Library’s Living in Lockdown, and the National Library’s selective Covid web collecting, but until there is legislation to ensure systematic capture of the Irish web domain, this loss of the vivid memory of Covid-19 will seriously affect the future understanding of Ireland’s contemporary society. – Yours, etc,



Librarian and

College Archivist,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.